Ideas for Your Next Cheese Plate from the Formaggio Kitchen Cheesemongers
When it comes to pairing cheese with beverages and condiments, there are a number of classic couplings and rules related to selecting a great pairing. Rules like “if it grows together, it goes together,” or concepts such as matching like flavors (fruity with fruity) or contrasting flavors (sweet with salty), can help you plan out pairings more likely to work. However, while we sometimes look to these and other standard cheese pairing approaches, there’s no substitute for hands-on experimentation. As an adventurous group of cheesemongers, we enjoy defying boundaries and discovering new and memorably delicious cheese pairings.
From the time of the first true gourmets, people have been combining foods to form a whole more tasty than the sum of its parts. Imagine the first person to taste a bit of early cheese along with a drizzle of ancient honey (aha!). Since then, a multitude of particularly harmonious pairings have been established including Comté with apples, Stilton with Port and Brie with Chardonnay.
We adore these classic pairings. They are delicious. However, our mongers have their own similarly delicious yet innovative pairings.
Pair Cheese with Like Flavors
Looking to pair sweet with sweet, Leona discovered that Stilton pairs nicely with Cream Sherry – a style of blended sherry with a sweet, nutty flavor. While Port is a wonderful warming beverage during a chilly winter evening, on a warm day in May, Leona sought out something a bit lighter. She decided to chill a bottle of cream sherry to serve alongside a piece of Stilton and some fresh peaches. The combination of aromas and flavors was amazingly rich, complex and refreshing!
Leona is also responsible for a new cheese and spice match-up. Idiazabal is a lightly smoked, pressed cheese made from raw sheep’s milk in the Basque Country of Spain. It has a somewhat sweet and smoky flavor, which pairs nicely with a small slice of deeply sweet Quince paste (Membrillo). To further complement the smoky notes of the cheese, Leona sprinkled a wedge with Urfa Pepper – deep purple crushed peppers (almost black in color) from Turkey with a slow-building heat and a sweet, smoky flavor. Bold, but simple.
Pair Cheese with Opposing Flavors
Often, we like to contrast flavors to find the perfect balance. Julia loves a wedge of Challerhocker with Mostarda di Milano, a rich spicy jelly-like condiment made from apple, pear, orange and cherry blended with local wine and mustard syrup. Challerhocker, translated to mean “cellar dweller” or “cellar sitter”, is washed with brine and spices and aged for at least 12 months, yielding a deliciously complex sweet and nutty cheese. To this pairing, Julia adds a crunchy cornichon to create a beautiful medley of sweet, spicy, savory, and briny that works on all levels.
Ihsan enjoys a goat’s milk robiola such as the beautiful Robiola Roccaverano with a rosehip jam. The sweet and light floral flavor of the rosehip mellows the acidity of the tangy, fresh goat milk cheese. Young goat’s milk cheeses work well in a number of interesting pairings including a dab of Tomato and Chili Sauce and or served alongside Formaggio Kitchen’s House Olive Mista.
Julie tops a wedge of Comté with Haitian Pikliz from The Craig and Blonde. The spicy cabbage, carrot and chili-laced pickle, pronounced pick-lees, packs a bright, fiery tang that helps to mellow the sweetness in younger wheels of Comté. Fallot Tarragon Mustard is another favorite, matched up with Comté, where the herbal spicy notes of the mustard add great contrast to the rich and fruity notes of the cheese.
Perhaps my favorite example of opposing flavors working in sync is a pairing many of our mongers enjoy. Any sweet or lightly salty blue cheese like Fourme d’Ambert will be completely transformed by a few shavings of single-origin dark chocolate like Somerville Chocolate’s Nicaragua Bar. The subtle flavors in high quality chocolate range from notes of apricot to coffee, and all are filled with a rich bitterness that balances various blue cheeses.
In a world of endless possibility, there’s always something else that may be as good or better than what you already know. When it comes to setting up a cheese plate for our friends, we revel in the unheard of matches that surprise and delight. It’s even more exciting when we are able to introduce fellow mongers to new pairings!
Do you have any revolutionary pairings for cheese? Let us know in the comments!
Beth Wittenstein is a cheesemonger at Formaggio South End and Online Media Manager for Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge. When she isn’t taking photos of cheese, you can find her making intricate confections in her kitchen.